The Jesuit priest James Schall offers a sobering slap across the face in this short column assessing whether the German liberal newsmagazine Der Spiegel is correct in calling the problems besetting Roman Catholicism “the greatest crisis in the history of the Church.” He asks what would constitute such an extreme crisis, and says that it would be something that threatens the integrity of the Church’s teaching, not the failure of its ministers to live out that teaching. Excerpt:

The “greatest crisis” of the Church, then, would not be the discovery that clerics are themselves sinners. Christ was sent not for the just but the unjust. He was sent to grant forgiveness to whoever asked for it. But he also told us to stop sinning. So the fact that sinners populate the world and the Church, even after Christ established rules to live by, cannot surprise anyone. There are, of course, many kinds of sin. The current flair-up [sic] is over the sixth commandment in its many consequences. They all relate to the integrity of the family and its members.

Indeed, the current issue is largely the result of ingrown, acquired habits that are difficult, but not impossible, to break. Generally speaking, in seeking to make a fair judgment on priest and bishop sinners, their victims were neglected. This latter concern is now central, as it should be. The greatest “crisis” is not about the fact of sin or sinners. It is about the internal order of the Church itself, whether it believes and upholds its own doctrines, whether true or not. [Emphasis mine — RD]

Many do not think that the aberrations some priests and bishops are accused of committing are sins or disorders. But even these realize that the Church is the last bastion of moral integrity as seen in its classical philosophic and religious form. They also see that the serious troubles the Church itself is in are primarily due to its own actions.

We can say that the issue is not over whether the pope is a sinner, naïve, or weak, but whether he has approved teachings or moral behaviors that he is obliged to oppose. If he has taken this step in some obviously authoritative way, then Der Spiegel will be proved right. A reversal of fundamental teaching at the highest levels of the Church would constitute the “greatest crisis” in Catholic history. It is an act of faithfulness to respectfully hope Pope Francis clarifies his own teachings. It does not seem like it is too much to ask and many, including Der Spiegel, are asking it.

Last month, Francis changed Church law to make the proceedings of Synods authoritative Church teaching, pending papal approval. That means that if the current Synod of Youth ongoing in Rome through October 28 comes up with final documents that Francis wishes to be considered official Church teaching, he can make it so.

Back in March, an analysis in Catholic World Report examined what was coming at the Youth Synod, based on reading the pre-synodal final document. Excerpt:

As the third major theme, echoing numerous statements of Pope Francis and his advisors, the document states that “the Church oftentimes appears as too severe and is often associated with excessive moralism.” “This implies a Church that is not “merciful” and fails to “love everyone.” “Simplistic answers” to “complex issues” do “not suffice,” the youth say.  They “desire answers which are not watered-down, or which utilize pre-fabricated formulations.” Certain moral teachings of the Church, that is, “contraception, abortion, homosexuality, cohabitation, marriage, and how the priesthood is perceived,” are re-labeled “polemical issues” about which there is “internal debate.”

In addition, part of “the development of our identity” is “discovering our sexuality.”  Thus, youth “may want the Church to change her teaching or at least to have access to a better explanation and to more information on these questions.”  In a similar vein, Jesuit priest and Vatican insider, James Martin, said in his 2017 book, Building a Bridge, that “some bishops have already called for the church to set aside the phrase ‘objectively disordered’” concerning homosexuality in the Catechism.

The final document’s criticisms are in keeping with the words of the Preparatory Document for the youth synod released by the Vatican exactly one year ago, which said that “rigid attitudes” must be abandoned, and the Church must give up any “way of acting” that is “out-dated.” And, indeed, the Pope himself in Amoris Laetitia, spoke of “a framework and a setting which help us avoid a cold bureaucratic morality in dealing with more sensitive issues.” (312).


The final document is firmly grounded in and takes its cues from the contemporary post-modern world, and its overall tone is that youths themselves are both the source of and reference for the present and future. Last year’s Preparatory Document stated that the Church must adopt a “new approach” about youth and must “make a self-examination and . . .  re-discover her vocation of caring for others in the manner recommended by Pope Francis at the beginning of his pontificate.”  In dealing with the Francis-emphasized themes of social justice, the empowerment of women, and the avoidance of moralizing, this new final document of the Pre-Synodal Meeting of Young People seems to have accomplished that.

Watch closely what happens at month’s end, and in November. Watch what the Synod’s final documents say. Francis and his men tried to rig the previous Synod, the Synod On The Family, but didn’t get away with it. This time, they will have no doubt learned from their mistakes.

Familiarize yourselves with the late Cardinal Caffarra’s 2017 speech. It’s important. We could very well see a schism in the Roman church. If the pontiff declares as authoritative Church teaching something that contradicts fundamental Church teaching, and on such a basic area as the meaning of sex and the human person, what choice would faithful Catholics have?

(I’m not asking rhetorically; I really want to know.)

UPDATE: S.M. Hutchens comments:

I believe Fr. Schall is dead on center when he points out that “The greatest ‘crisis’ is not about the fact of sin or sinners. It is about the internal order of the Church itself, whether it believes and upholds its own doctrines . . . .” This is why Amoris Laetitia and the repudiation of traditionalist prelates in favor of liberals are of greater moment for the Catholic Church than even the nastiest sex scandal, the likes of which the Church has seen and handled before.

What makes the present scandal the greatest is not “presentism,” but that the pope and the princes of the Church are capitulating to the pre-existing and growing intolerance of the laityfor the official teachings of the Church. There is no longer a moral anchor in one estate to resist the defections of the other (as arguably there has been in every pope up to Francis) so that it appears the whole Church has gone bad, and is being confirmed in its corruption for the foreseeable future by no less than its duly recognized and elected Petrine head.

It is logical to conclude that this Church is not–nor, therefore, has it ever been–preserved from error unless one resorts to the Protestant expedient of an Invisible Church, the adumbrations of which I am seeing in more conservative Catholic writers, for the argument that the Roman Congregation is and has been thus preserved (never believed by non-Roman Christians) has fallen upon very hard days within the Catholic Church itself, that now appears to be in respect of preservation perhaps better than, but not qualitatively unlike, everybody else. This, I believe, is the chief significance of Pope Francis: he is the man after whom it became implausible to believe the Catholic Church’s testimony about its identity. If this is not a crisis, I don’t know what is.